Reflecting On A Year of Southern Jewish Life

Another school year has come and gone, and the ending of the school year just so happens to coincide with my one-year anniversary of serving as the Director of Community Engagement at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL).

To say that this has been a monumental year in my life would be an understatement. One year ago, my life was going a completely different direction until I received a phone call that changed everything. Two years ago, if you had said “Where will you be by summer of 2016?” I would have said I would be the principal of an elementary school in the Mississippi Delta. After all, I was already an assistant principal. I was on that path.

But paths change. I took a chance and I have fallen in love with my new path.

Working in the Jewish world has enriched my life in ways I never expected. There is a sense of community and bond that unites us all often spoken and often unspoken. When I decided to take on this role, I was afraid that I would lose that sense of purpose I had for over a decade in public education. Yet, here at the ISJL and with the work I am doing, I feel a greater purpose and I have the privilege of directing some of the most incredible programs that I have ever come across. I do not take for granted that I LOVE what I do.

One of the concessions I had to make when I left the school system was that I wouldn’t be around young people daily anymore. This was a major shift for me. I was used to having busy halls, people coming in and out of my office all day long, going inside and outside back and forth dozens of times a day. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I was able to sit with dozens of teachers each day and talk about how they were coming up with creative ways to work with students. I missed this so much. Right as the ache was starting to set in I was given another gift in my new Southern-and-Jewish-centered life: The chance to teach Sunday school at the local synagogue.

My Sunday School class
My Sunday School class

By becoming a 7th/8th grade Sunday school teacher, I not only had the chance to work with students again, but also I was able to understand why the ISJL curriculum is so outstanding. I never taught religious school before, and was so afraid of being unprepared and uninspiring (like many of my own religious school teachers). But — and I’m not saying this because of being on the ISJL staff! — I found myself taken care of, safe, and prepared because the curriculum was so well constructed and designed for everyday use by the everyday teacher.

It also helped that I had some of the coolest students any teacher could hope to have. Who would have guessed that I would be having philosophical debates about our purpose in the world, the value of social justice, and being “the only Jew” with a group of students that made me question things I had never pondered?

So, let’s recap. In the last year I shifted careers, started teaching in an area I had never worked in before, and moved to a new city, oh yeah, and I also adopted a dog. What’s the verdict, one year after veering off my old path?

I love my Southern and Jewish life.

Change is scary; there were plenty of doubt-filled moments and sleepless nights, but, a year later and I wouldn’t change a thing. Life is filled with twists and turns, some call it God’s plan, fate, destiny, serendipity, luck…I am just happy that for whatever reason, I have managed to wind up where I am and that life keeps throwing pleasant surprises my way.


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